Baseball fans everywhere were relieved when the players and owners reached a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement in March 2022. The pact not only ended a brief lockout, it also changed the scheduling process used by Major League Baseball.
Since 2001, MLB has featured an unbalanced schedule that focused on divisional matchups with 76 games (19 each) against division rivals. The new template will dramatically increase interleague games, with clubs playing one series against every team in the opposing league, and the number of divisional contests will drop to 52 in order to compensate.
These changes mean that in 2023, for the first time in baseball history, all 30 MLB teams will play each other during the regular season. This move felt like a possibility pretty much the moment the Houston Astros went to the American League a decade ago and put 15 teams in each league. The odds went even higher as support for the universal DH gained traction
So what impact will this new format have on the 2023 Cubs season?
At first blush, it might not be good news for the Cubs’ playoff hopes because the National League Central does not appear strong at all heading into the new season. The Brewers look weaker and the Reds and the Pirates are firmly in rebuilding mode. Playing 12 fewer games against those two bad teams won’t help in a drive for one of the three Wild Card spots.
The idea of making the competition for the Wild Card more fair was expressly cited by MLB when they announced the new schedule.
“The new balanced schedule will feature all 30 Clubs playing each other for at least one series in 2023,” said MLB chief operations and strategy officer Chris Marinak. “This new format creates more consistent opponent matchups as Clubs compete for Postseason berths, particularly in the recently expanded Wild Card round.”
While it may not be good news for the Cubs this season, it is good news for Cub fans. They will get a chance to see all the great American League players and teams every other year, which is definitely an improvement over going six or even 10 years between appearances by the Red Sox, Yankees, and others.
Of course, the presumed difficulty or ease of the schedule means nothing until games start to be played in two months. Sometimes what looks like a cakewalk can become a nightmare and what might look like a meat-grinder of division in March can be a one-team race by July. With improved defense and depth, maybe the Cubs can keep themselves in the hunt long enough to make a little noise.
As the great philosopher Chris Berman is wont to say, “That’s why they play the game.”